Kokushi Kasei Joso (国司苛政上訴)

Kokushi kasei joso refers to acts and phenomena of appeals and armed struggles by Gunji (local magistrates), Tato (cultivators), Fumyo (tiller of the public rice field), and the farmer class in order to complain to the central government Daijokan (Grand Council of State) about tyrannies and illegal behaviors of Kokushi (or Zuryo) (provincial governors), Chihokan (local officials) during the Heian period in Japan. It is also called kokushi kasei shuso. Gunji or farmers of provinces commonly visited the capital to complain to the Daijokan about tyrannies and illegal behaviors of Kokushi in front of Yomei-mon gate (the public gate of the Imperial Palace) of Daidairi (the Greater Imperial Palace). It started to appear in the second half of the 10th century and often occurred particularly when FUJIWARA no Michinaga was an administrator. However it became increasingly nominal, ending in the 1040's.


The first historical record of Kokushi kasei joso was a case in which farmers in Owari Province complained to Daijokan about illegal behaviors of their kokushu, FUJIWARA no Tsurasada in 974. Originally under the Ritsuryo codes, farmers had a right of action but were prohibited from bringing a case without going through formalities (a direct appeal to a senior official). It is not unknown why Kokushi kasei joso, apparently a form of direct appeals, began to be accepted. However, some have suggested it was accepted as a compromise measure against Zuryo's growing control over entire Japan, while others have suggested that the Gunji class (local magistrates) was given the right to direct appeals in exchange for their lost conventional rights.

Since the first case, the number of appeals only found in historical documents rose to more than twenty over about sixty years until the 1140's. One of the most famous appeals was 'Owari no kuni (Owari Province) Gunji (a local government official) Hyakusho (farmers) ra no Gebumi (letter)' of November 8, 988, in which the Gunji and farmers in Owari complained their Kokushu, FUJIWARA no Motonaga's illegal behaviors as a breach of thirty-one articles of misconduct and violence. As the result, Motonaga was dismissed of Kokushi.

Initially as described above, it was common that Daijokan approved claims of gunji and farmers and dismissed the kokushi. However Daijokan headed by FUJIWARA no Michinaga became aware that some claims of Gunji and farmers are rather selfish and thus claims that won dismissal of the Kokushu dramatically dropped from about 50% to 20% during the period between the latter half of the 1110's and the 1120's. Eventually Kokushi kasei joso became rare after claims in the 1140's.


Before the war (before the 1940's) the Heian period was interpreted as a period when dynasty government was becoming a mere shell or dead letter and local government was devastating. Kokushi kasei joso was also commonly regarded as evidence of disrupting local governments with Juryoso (career provincial official class) seeking only for their own interests.

After the war fundamentally different evolutions were given to Kokushi kasei joso based on the dynastic polity theory. Around the former half of the 10th century, the rule over people under the Ritsuryo system was destructed in which people and farmers were controlled with family register and keicho (the yearly tax registers). To ensure yields of tax, the Imperial Court introduced a new ruling system where Kokugaryo (territories governed by provincial government office) in provinces were divided into units of myoden (rice field lots in charge of nominal holders) so that land lords of the wealthy class (Tato (cultivators)) undertook the management of myoden and land tax payment. This system is called the local tax manager system, which constitutes a foundation of the system of the dynasty state as a regime. In response to this shift of the system, the administration of Kokushi (provincial governors) was required only to pay certain taxes (such as kanmotsu (tribute goods paid as taxes or tithes) and zatsueki (odd-job tasks)) with other tasks left to the discretion of the appointed head of the provincial governors. Such Kokushi is Zuryo (the head of the provincial governors). The Zuryo was entitled to control over his own province at their own discretion, allowing them to collect taxes strictly from Gunji (local magistrates), Tato, Fumyo (tiller of the public rice field), and farmers. Gunji and farmers who were opposed to Zuryo appealed Kokushi kasei joso as a class struggle. Kokushi kasei joso was effective in having an effect on Daijokan's policies, resulting in the enactment of "Koden kanmotsu rippo" (fixing a limit of 3 to of rice per tan of land) in 1040 for fixing the tax rates in Japan. Therefore the post-war evaluation is that the disappearance of Kokushi kasei joso was because Zuryo's arbitrary administration had been controlled.

Some have opinions different from above; Juryoso (career provincial official class) in those days did not necessarily suppress Gunji and farmers to pursue their own self-interest. Examining individual cases of Kokushi kasei joso, we can find law-abiding administrative stances of the sued Kokushi; some legally levied tax items not collected by customs or others levied local taxes, often collected in those days under a new system by the change of the emperors. Although FUJIWARA no Motonaga had been often regarded as a greedy Zuryo, some suggest that Motonaga only observed strictly the policy of Kazan shinsei (new laws issued by Emperor Kazan) under the new local tax system Emperor Kazan actively introduced immediately after his enthronement. These views have brought about an opinion that a contradiction intrinsic to the local tax manager system appeared in the form of Kokushi kasei joso. In fact, rather selfish desires of Gunji and farmers can be seen in some cases: for example, Kokushi kasei joso was a revenge by zaichokanjin (the local officials in Heian and Kamakura periods) who had an argument with Nagato no kuni no kami (governor of Nagato Province); farmers submitted a letter to praise their Tanba no kuni no kami immediately after Kokushi kasei joso; and appealing farmers set fire to the kokushi's residence in Kyoto. In this opinion, Kokushi kasei joso disappeared because Gunji and farmers became involved in Kokuga government as Zaichokanjin (the local officials in Heian and Kamakura periods).

In addition, officials in kokuga (provincial government offices) and Gunji began to be collectively called Zoshikinin (lower-level functionaries in the provincial government) in the latter half the 10th century. In other opinions, Kokushi kasei joso appeared as the evidence that these Zoshikinin worked with local influential persons to counter the Kokushi and Zuryo class.

In evaluating these historical events, we should keep in mind that the farmer class refers not to poor farmers suffering from heavy taxes Zuryo collected but to large-scale managers of agriculture and other industries who had vested rights in the local community and industries with many subordinate people and private solders and had a contract with kokuga over fumyo. No matter what evaluations are given to these conflicts, it is clear that the mechanism of Kokuga (provincial government offices) headed by Zuryo helped such a wealthy farmer class grow to control the region and collect taxes more efficiently and gave them opportunities of acquiring huge vested interests. These conflicts were brought about by severe competition for wealth between Zuryo who took responsibility in the local governance and tax collection and the wealthy farmer class who were gathering wealth. For more details, see sections of Tato and Fumyo, Zuryo, farmers and warriors.

[Original Japanese]